By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—Members of the House of Representatives elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, yesterday staged a walkout from plenary to protest the ruling of the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, which endorsed the defection of Nnanna Igbokwe from the party to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
Igbokwe, who represents Mbaise Federal Constituency of Imo State, had written a letter to the speaker to formally announce his defection.
The letter read thus: “My decision to join the APC at the time I did was a result of the leadership crisis/division that rocked the Peoples Democratic Party. You would recall that the judgement of the Supreme Court of Nigeria that finally resolved the leadership crisis was delivered in July 2017, six months after I joined the APC.
“Since January 2017, I have stopped attending all PDP caucus meeting at the national level. On the flipside, I have since January 2017, been attending all APC caucus meetings and functions in my ward, local government, state and national levels, and have been paying my party dues and levies. Copies of APC payment slips are attached herewith.”
Hardly had the speaker finished reading the letter announcing Igbokwe’s defection when the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Binta Bello, reminded Dogara of Section 68 of the 1999 constitution, which stipulates that a member shall lose his or her when decamping to another party from the party that elected him.
Section 68 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states in part: “(1) A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if (a) he becomes a member of another legislative house; (b) any other circumstances arise that, if he were not a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives, would cause him to be disqualified for election as a member;; (c) he ceases to be a citizen of Nigeria; (d) he becomes President, Vice-President, Governor, Deputy Governor or a Minister of the Government of the Federation or a Commissioner of the Government of a State or a Special Adviser.’’
Bello also cited a judgment of the Supreme Court that reinforced the section, submitting that the judgment barred members from leaving the party upon which they were elected to the House, and that the consequence was to lose their seat.
Also speaking, another PDP lawmaker, Ossai Nicholas Ossai, reminded the speaker that the section stipulates the setting up of an investigative panel to discuss the reason given by Igbokwe for his defection.
He also stated that there was no division in the PDP at the moment, arguing that members of the party were not privy to Igbokwe’s letter of defection, dated January.
But the remarks were deflated by the speaker, Yakubu Dogara, who said even if the House called for a vote on the issue, it would raise the issue of majority number which would favour the APC.
He then hit the gavel, endorsing Igbokwe’s defection
At this juncture, the PDP lawmakers staged a walkout to protest the ruling.
Meanwhile, the whole drama was witnessed by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State who received Igbokwe after his defection in the chamber.
Addressing journalists shortly after leaving the chambers, the PDP caucus in solidarity with members of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA and Labour Party, LP, said they were heading back to court to seek reinterpretation of the Supreme Court judgment on member’s defection, especially when there was no division in his or her political party.
Binta Bello who led the caucus, said that the speaker’s ruling was at variance with the constitution and the supreme court’s judgment on the matter.
She said: “Just this morning when we walked into the chamber, Mr. Speaker read a communication from one of our colleagues, cross-carpeting from PDP to APC. To the best of our knowledge and to the best of the speaker’s knowledge, there is a supreme court judgment that any member that was elected under a party should vacate his seat if he’s cross-carpeting to another party.
‘’We raised different points of order to that effect. But it did not yield any result. Therefore, we want to say that we are going back to the Supreme Court to reinterpret to the chamber that same ruling that was done in the past and secondly, based on our constitution, we have raised a constitutional order.
‘’Nothing was done to that effect. He ruled against us. Therefore, we are not happy with the ruling of Mr. Speaker because he ruled against the constitution of the country and the supreme court judgment.
“Had it been the letter come earlier than now, it would have been a different case. To the best of our knowledge, there is no division in PDP now. We don’t have division.’’
Meanwhile, a member of the PDP, Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma ( Edo State) has alleged that his colleagues in the party victimized him because of his decision not to join in the walkout
Against this background, Agbonayinma, who also addressed the press, said the lawmakers promised to defeat (negative) his motion on Digital Switch Over, DSO.
He decried the attitude of his colleagues, saying it was not in the interest of the country.
He said: “I did not join the walk out and it was because I have a motion of urgent public importance.
“For Speaker Yakubu Dogara to allow the motion to be moved showed the National importance of the motion because it is against the rule to move such motions and debate it same day.
“I’m disappointed because I was promised that my motion will be defeated if I don’t join the walkout and it was defeated.
“For the love of Nigeria, we don’t have to be partisan on issues of national importance and it is such a surprise and disappointment because they used to stand by me but partisan politics played out today.
“With what happened today, are we setting a precedence on passage of motion based on partisanship?
“The fact of today’s (yesterday) action by the PDP caucus is that it is a conspiracy not against me but against the people of Nigeria.
“We should not forget that it is our duty to help President Buhari to succeed in his fight against corruption and moving this country forward because if he succeeds, Nigeria succeeds.’’